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Sebastian Vettel: The Fallen Giant

Written by Nakul Naik, Edited by Harshi Vashee

It’s 2010. You see Sebastian Vettel cross the waving checkered flag to be crowned as the youngest Formula One World Champion, a record that still holds to this date. You don’t realize it, but what you’ve just witnessed is the ushering of an era of utter dominance, broken records, ruthless victory, and most importantly, a spot among the all time greats. All of this comes from one man — Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel bows to the car after winning four world championships

Fast forward to 2013, the Indian Grand Prix. Vettel crosses the line to become a four time world champion. You see him drive the championship winning RB9 to the main straight, in front of the grandstands. He does his victory donuts, and rises from the cockpit through a haze of tire smoke and in the deafening noise of the Indian crowd. He then goes on to create an iconic photo — he gets down on his knees and bows to the car. You see this euphoric moment and think that this is never going to end. You look at what he’s achieved so far with the Red Bull outfit — four titles, thirty nine wins, forty four pole positions, and several records. This was dominance at its finest.

Vettel crashes out at the 2018 German GP

Now, take yourself to the 2018 German Grand Prix. You see Vettel lead the championship by fourteen points, and clinch the pole position in qualifying. You think that he’ll win in front of his home crowd and solidify his lead in the championship. Tragically, you’re wrong. On lap fifty two, Vettel locks his rear brakes into turn twelve and collides head on with the barrier. His title rival Lewis Hamilton would go on to win the race, and take the lead of the championship — permanently. This time, he rises from the cockpit as a defeated man. This moment was the beginning of the end of not only Vettel’s title challenge, but his prime as well.

Vettel’s 2014 challenger

After 2013, no one knew what to expect (as is the case with most regulation changes) — there were just so many possibilities. However, no one expected Red Bull to decline the way it did. In 2014, Red Bull had only three wins as compared to thirteen in the previous year. It seemed near impossible for a team that had achieved so much in the past four years to not only fail to challenge for the title, but also struggle to win races.

At the center of all of this unexpected change was Sebastian Vettel. He went from breaking the record for most consecutive wins (nine) and tying the record for most victories in a season (thirteen) to not winning a single race in 2014. The season was marred with unreliability issues for Vettel in several races, and he found himself struggling to get used to the car and the tires.

Vettel driving for Ferrari in 2015

Everyone looks at Vettel’s career after 2014 and just imagines what could have been if things had gone differently. Mercedes were so dominant through those years that trying to defeat them would be nothing short of a herculean effort and defeating them, an achievement against the odds. When Vettel signed for Ferrari in 2015, he knew that the team had the resources and the track record to give him a shot at challenging for the title.

2017 and 2018 were those very years. Formula One is a sport where circumstances change fast and expectations defied even faster. There are so many variables ranging from the weather, to whether that wheel nut gun goes in at the right angle during the pitstop, all of which can completely change the face of a title challenge. What started out as a title challenge in 2017, faded away as Ferrari failed to keep a competitive edge over Mercedes. The hope for a title challenge in 2018 too faded away with errors from Vettel, and Ferrari’s inability to keep their car faster than the rapid 2018 Mercedes.

2019 was a controversial season not only for Vettel, but Ferrari as well. 2019 saw Charles Leclerc become Vettel’s teammate and Mattia Binotto replacing Maurizio Arrivabene, a man with whom Vettel had built a very good rapport over the years, as Team Principal. Power dynamics shifted among the Ferrari teammates throughout the season with both of them trying to outperform each other at every race. It all came to the tipping point at the penultimate race of the season, the Brazilian Grand Prix, when the teammates collided, taking each other out. Vettel placed fifth in the driver’s championships at the end of the year, one position below Leclerc.

The 2020 season for Vettel can be summed up by the fact that he had an average grid position of 12.06, and an average finishing position of 10.4. Ferrari’s car could barely challenge for the top five positions, and raced with the lower midfield teams throughout the season.

Vettel driving for Aston Martin

Vettel now drives for the Aston Martin outfit. As Formula One enters a new era of technical regulations, one can only hope that Aston Martin produces a car that will allow Vettel to harness his dormant potential. Only then can the fallen giant awaken to conquer a long lost dream.

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